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ST ETIENNE France (Reuters) - Being too strong, and both feared and respected for it, can be a weakness on the Tour de France, Slovakian prodigy Peter Sagan has discovered.
He has managed eight top five finishes, including four second places, but after 12 stages he has yet to cross the finishing line first -- thanks, he says, to his rivals' defensive tactics.
The 24-year-old former cyclo-cross and mountain bike racer, who won three Tour stages in 2012 and one last year, may have enjoyed an outstanding opening week to take possession of the green jersey as the points classification leader, but admits he is frustrated.
"They know that I'm faster than them in a finish in a little group so nobody wants to cooperate," a frustrated Sagan told reporters after Wednesday's disappointment, which he has already experienced in one-day races this season.
His rivals 'sandbagged' him, he said, in the finale of Wednesday's 11th stage won by Frenchman Tony Gallopin.
Australian Michael Rogers and Pole Michal Kwiatkowski refused to take turns with Sagan as Gallopin attacked 2.5 kilometers from the line, knowing the Slovakian would beat them in the final sprint.
It was a similar story on Thursday when Norway's Alexander Kristoff claimed his maiden Tour de France victory, beating Sagan in a sprint on the 12th stage, a 185.5-km ride from Bourg en Bresse.
Katusha rider Kristoff timed his effort perfectly to win with a comfortable margin to leave Sagan still without a win.
With a certain sense of grandiloquence, Sagan said: "The Tour is against me."
Sagan, however, has been showing nerves this year, attacking too early, which means he sometimes lacks juice in the final straight.
It was not the case on Thursday, when he was beaten fair and square by Kristoff.
His Cannondale sports director Stefano Zanatta said that the main objective was to win the green jersey.
"It is very good for the green jersey. Kristoff did a great sprint," Zanatta told reporters.
"Peter did his maximum, he is always around. The morale is good. He cannot always win and he has to accept that.
Barring crashes or abandon, Sagan should bag the green jersey for the third year in succession.
He has 341 points in the classification with second-placed Bryan Coquard of France on 191.
But he would dearly love to add another stage win to his collection on the road to Paris.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Tim Collings